Partnering for an Economically Stronger New York State
In the spring of 2015, two trade and advocacy groups for New York’s bioscience and medical technology (Bio/Med) industry, MedTech, initially focused on Upstate NY, and NY BioHud Valley (an initiative of Hudson Valley Economic Development Corporation [HVEDC]), concentrated on the Hudson Valley region, formally announced a partnership. The affiliation of the two like-minded organizations aims to break down regional barriers within New York State (NYS) to foster collaboration and strategic partnerships between companies and advocate for industry priorities. Additionally, the partnership aims to boost economic development and support retention of these Bio/Med companies and their associated workforce within NYS.
Please tell us about the MedTech–NY BioHud Valley partnership and how it came to happen.
JC: This partnership was actually initiated by one of our member companies, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Michael Williams, director and assistant general counsel at Regeneron, sits on our Board of Directors. We were discussing how MedTech’s mission has grown grown and expanded beyond the upstate region, and he suggested reaching out to Larry at NY BioHud Valley. Their organization has very similar interests within the life sciences industry and is based downstate, whereas we were initially focused upstate. From my first conference call with Larry, I knew we shared a similar passion for economic development and growing the industry across NYS, not just within our respective regions. We realized by allying our organizations we could synergize to better support our members and constituencies.
LG: It was kind of like a first eHarmony date (laughs), and it just took off from there. When we launched NY BioHud Valley, the purpose of the initiative was really to give a voice to all of these disconnected companies that were looking for legitimacy or were seeking out more assistance from NYS. As the initiative matured, we felt that the next level would be to branch out from the Hudson Valley Region. After Regeneron introduced us to MedTech, the idea developed that borders are really artificial, and if we want the Bio/Med industry to grow across all of NYS, we can’t pit one region against another. You can’t say that Syracuse or Buffalo’s failure would be to the advantage of the Hudson Valley; the reverse is also true. If a pharmaceutical company were to fail here, it would have significant impact on Upstate NY as well. Thus, it made sense for our two organizations, which were both operating under similar principles, to collaborate. Our aim is to synergize, because as they say, “the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts.”
JC: Exactly. Companies don’t think along the lines of pitting one geographical boundary of the Bio/Med industry against another when considering how to operate and conduct their business. That’s why it makes sense that–as an organization supporting this industry – we shouldn’t either. It comes down to doing what is best for the business and their customers, and ultimately, what is best for patients. I joined MedTech about three years ago, but I’ve always viewed our mission as an opportunity for statewide economic development. With our shared efforts with NY BioHud Valley, we hope to leverage the strengths of each of our regions to build the Bio/Med industry and develop NYS as a center for life sciences.
How did the perceived borders develop, and how can breaking them down help the NYS Bio/Med industry?
LG: NYS is interesting because, traditionally, financial investment by the state has been competitive regarding where dollars go. Historically, NYS has had different centers of gravity for different economic niches. For many years, that was Upstate NY before it became New York City, with Wall Street then becoming a magnet for economic growth. This leads to regional competition for resources, whereas our belief is that the industry should be viewed holistically. In other words, biotech is biotech and should be treated as such regardless of where in the state a company is located. By aligning our organizations to help each other, we are sending the message that location isn’t important. If we can help one of MedTech’s companies and they can help one of NY BioHud Valley’s, then we are working towards what’s best for the industry.
Unifying the Bio/Med industry will help boost NYS economically.
JC: Transcending regional boundaries does help the industry as a whole, and NYS is a big state – it’s geographically vast. I know because I’m up and down the thruway all the time. In doing that, you get to see all of the pockets of energy within this industry. I get to see what is happening in Western New York and then what’s happening in the Hudson Valley. As Larry was saying, working together will hopefully create some synergies and partnerships between companies located throughout NYS. Whether it’s establishing a new customer, a new strategic partner, a new supplier, etc., unifying the Bio/Med industry will help boost NYS economically.
The Bio/Med companies within NYS are diverse. How can your organizations and this partnership benefit companies industry-wide?
JC: The beauty of MedTech is the MedTech community; when you become a member, doors to resources open and our members get more involved in the industry’s ecosystem. We can help foster relationships to get our members visibility for some of their resources. Like any relationship, we want the ecosystem to continue to grow organically. You can’t force it too much.
LG: Both of our organizations provide resources, but in a “survival-of-the-fittest” ecosystem, some organizations may not always flourish. Our goal is to help these companies find alternative or additional paths that they may have not realized to better their chances of success.
JC: There are underlying themes that impact everyone in this industry. Examples include dealing with the FDA or establishing and managing international partnerships. Such themes cross over all segments or sizes of company. To address such topics, we might offer a program in which we bring in a regulatory expert from one of our multinational companies who has done work in China, for example. The program may include case studies or highlight advantages commonly encountered. Sharing best-practices is very helpful, particularly for startup companies. For our larger companies, the innovation pipeline is especially important. Connecting them to innovative startup technology can help lead to mutually beneficial relationships.
How will you use this partnership to get member companies from across the state together to start these conversations and form these relationships?
JC: One example is a program we have begun hosting quarterly in New York City called MedTech Metro. We have a number of representatives from different companies, and not just those based upstate. Our goal is to bring people together in a more informal, networking-type of environment to expose companies just starting out to the established venture capital community downstate.
LG: Often, companies are looking for exposure to what else is going on in the industry, and fostering communication is really nine-tenths of that. So we at NY BioHud Valley started distributing MedTech’s newsletter to our members. We feel that even if we’re not creating that content ourselves, we need to share that content because our member companies might read a story in there and come to us asking to connect. By partnering with MedTech, I can reach out to Jessica and say, “Let’s get these two companies together.” So that’s an example of how we’re hoping this can work, but right now, our partnership is still in its infancy. What I do know from every cluster initiative we’ve done, forming relationships comes down to talking to our members, exposing them to content, and educating them. Once you do that, the rest will fall into place. I’d love to get our NY BioHud Valley members going to MedTech events so they can see that people do care about their growth. That’s something we alluded to before – that if there’s one major challenge in NYS, it’s getting folks connected and feeling like they’re part of something bigger than their own companies. Most of these companies are very siloed, so the purpose of our organization is to create “playdates,” if you will, for our “kids,” or member companies, to socialize and get exposed to others. It’s as simple as that. In NYS, there’s no natural center where the industry is clustered together, like in Cambridge or San Francisco. So we need to actively encourage those interactions.
JC: We want to connect more people within the industry. Our goal is to figure out how to best connect assets in the Hudson Valley with our upstate member companies, and vice-versa, to support commercialization and new product development.
LG: Really what we’re looking to do is “cross-pollenate.” For example, if we have academics at New York Medical College, and MedTech has a company that wants a footprint closer to NYC, but can’t afford space down here, we can say, “We have the biotech incubator space” and work together to build that bridge.
Can you describe how you will work with the government to advocate for your member companies and to support economic development?
JC: There are different challenges at each level of government. However, if I’m out in front for our members talking about certain issues, and Larry’s out talking about those same issues, there is greater visibility and exposure for the challenges that our industry faces as a whole. The more people voicing the same concerns only helps to get those issues addressed. When policies are changed at any level of government, it’s nice to be able to say to Larry, “How is this impacting the companies in your region?” or, “How is this impacting this large company in your area?” We’re then able to put a face to some of these issues and personalize them for our elected officials.
LG: Organizations like ours are in very interesting positions. We’re almost like union representatives for police officers, because union officials have to represent the best interest of rookies while speaking for those who have been on the job for 20 years. In many respects, this is similar to what we have. Our companies may have different needs, so the industry voice to the government can be especially important for the small companies who can’t afford to hire a lobbyist or don’t have a government affairs person on staff. Larger companies like Regeneron do have those resources. So often smaller companies want to learn from their larger counterparts or partner with other small companies or groups like ours to form advocacy groups. This can give these smaller companies greater heft at the negotiating table, particularly on a state level and especially when it comes to the availability of grants.
JC: We’ve also started working with our state delegations on an industry roundtable aimed at workforce development. Those conversations have now expanded toward supporting the life sciences industry as a whole in NYS. A long-term goal though is to focus some of our efforts on retention and attraction to NYS. How do we bring a company into NYS that can create jobs? We’ve had companies leave NYS; how do we prevent that? Working to attract and retain companies and the talent they hire is critical to supporting and continuing to develop NYS’s economy.
Where do you see the future of the Bio/Med industry going, and how do your organizations and this collaboration fit into that picture?
LG: One thing I’m really interested in doing is hosting special kinds of hybrid training forums. For example, let’s get tech folks trained in data analytics, a piece of the research component that is rapidly growing in size. Educational seminars like that can be a great way to build and develop connections outside of the conventional networking events. You never know where the next important person is hiding.
JC: There are so many aspects to healthcare, and within that space there are a lot of complementary industries, so the opportunities to cross-train our people are infinite. At a minimum level, I’d love to start getting more of our companies together and talking to each other, even just to spread awareness of what they are doing. Hopefully out of that exposure will come new synergies. We may not see the results of those conversations a year from now – it could be 18 months or two years – but just getting the conversation started has so much potential.
We don’t always know where the Bio/Med industry is going, but that’s the fun of it. We have to be reflective of the way business works and today’s business demands a great deal of flexibility.
LG: A lot is changing in the healthcare industry. We have already pivoted to include digital health, something still fairly new to the Bio/Med space. 3D printing is changing so rapidly, and some of our members are now using that within the medical device industry. We don’t always know where the Bio/Med industry is going, but that’s the fun of it. We have to be reflective of the way business works, and today’s business demands a great deal of flexibility.
JC: Our associations and this partnership aim to provide resources and help companies grow, but at the end of the day, we’re working to cure diseases and improve peoples’ quality of life. When I reach out to a company, I think about how we’re helping our families, our neighbors. So we try not to focus too much on our individual organizations, but rather how our work makes it personal. I love what I do, and I know Larry very much agrees with me. We are both passionate about helping our member companies succeed, and that is why I think this partnership is working so well.